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Gaylord Nelson looked over the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The river is a waterway he worked to protect as the first Wild and Scenic River in the U.S. Nelson is the founder of Earth Day, which helped galvanize Congress into creating important federal environmental legislation.

Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson never forgot his northwestern Wisconsin roots. In fact, much of the environmental legacy he left behind stemmed from his lifelong affection for Clear Lake.

Nelson’s hometown returns the favor each spring with an all-day Earth Day celebration. The third annual Clear Lake Earth Day Celebration will be Saturday, April 20, at the Gaylord A. Nelson Education Center (Clear Lake Elementary School).

“Of 192 nations celebrating Earth Day and a billion people on the planet, we can say he is from Clear Lake,” said local historian Charles Clark, who was a personal friend of Nelson’s. “Earth Day is also the most celebrated holiday in the world and it is something that the founder is from Clear Lake.”

Clark said Nelson had a “spotless reputation” in his public and private life — something that isn’t common in politics.

“Gaylord grew up here, graduated high school here in 1934 and is buried here. Of course, we are proud of that,” he said.

Education is a major focus of the free Earth Day event, which is open to the public and drew an average of 300 to 500 people in its first two years, according to organizer Cindy Hatella.

Speakers will discuss topics such as “green” cleaning, gardening, environmental issues, energy, recycling and more. Between 20 and 30 “green” vendors will offer food, healthy cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities, education and products for sale throughout the day.

The Polk County event is held in honor of Nelson, a former U.S. senator from Clear Lake who founded Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Inspired by teach-ins dealing with the Vietnam War, Earth Day drew 20 million participants that first year

In 2002, the Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison was renamed in his honor as the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. In 2004, the Gaylord A. Nelson Wilderness was designated in Wisconsin. Nelson died the following year.

Highlights of this year’s Earth Day Celebration will include an appearance by Inga Witscher of “Around the Farm Table.” Witscher will tell stories and present a food demonstration using local/seasonal ingredients at 1 p.m.

Dave Viau, a longtime resident of Clear Lake and local beekeeper, will educate attendees on the beekeeping process, from setting up hives and purchasing bees to harvesting and selling honey. Viau will speak on “Bees to Honey: From Start to Finish” at 11:30 a.m.

Chris Cold of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Ladysmith will be back this year with his popular wildlife ecology presentation. Cold’s presentation will be at 10 a.m.

“Last year, it was a hit as he brings a live animal,” Hatella said.

A freewill donation pancake breakfast, with all food sourced locally, will kick off the event from 8 to 10:30 a.m. in the elementary school commons area. Consuming Fire of Colfax will serve wood-fired pizza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be a special tribute to Walter DeYoung, who passed away in January. A former Clear Lake resident originally from Wayne, N.J., DeYoung was among the early advocates for Earth Day and dedicated much of his life to the environment, education and gardening. Locally, he was best known as the Stillwater lift bridge tender from 1986 to 1998.

Confirmed vendors include Eco Fire Bar, Next Energy Solution, local Girl Scouts, Clear Lake Library, St. Croix River Association, North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area, EB Ranch goat milk soap, Farmer to Farmer Coffee and Good Root Growers.

Educators will cover topics such as fly rod building, fly-fishing, beekeeping, gardening and bow-making.

“It is coming together well,” Hatella said. “We have plans to expand for 2020, being the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.”

Daughter speaking May 17

Nelson’s daughter, Tia Nelson, managing director for climate at the Outrider Foundation, will be the featured speaker for the St. Croix River Association’s annual Spring Gathering.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, May 17, at Terra Nue Farm, a 100 percent solar-energy farm and event barn near Shafer, Minn. At 7:30 p.m., after dinner, Tia will share her personal story and talk about her work on climate change.

For details, call 715-483-3300 or visit stcroixriver association.org.

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